On Sunday, February 21, 60 Minutes did a segment on Bloom Energy and the company’s Bloom Box. This coming-out-party may prove huge for the green revolution but only time will tell.
According to Husna Haq,a correspondent with the Christian Science Monitor, the Bloom Box isbeing hailed as the Holy Grail of clean energy: a refrigerator-sizedpersonal power plant that produces energy cheaply and cleanly and mayone day replace the traditional power grid.
“Its inventor wants to put one in every home by 2020,” Haq writes.“So what is Bloom Box? It’s a collection of fuel cells – skinnybatteries – that use oxygen and fuel to create electricity with noemissions.”
60 Minutes’ reporter Leslie Stahl opened the segment withthese words: “In the world of energy, the Holy Grail is a power sourcethat’s inexpensive and clean, with no emissions. Well over 100start-ups in Silicon Valley are working on it, and one of them, BloomEnergy, is about to make public its invention: a little powerplant-in-a-box they want to put literally in your backyard. You’llgenerate your own electricity with the box and it’ll be wireless. Theidea is to one day replace the big power plants and transmission linegrid, the way the laptop moved in on the desktop and cell phonessupplanted landlines. It has a lot of smart people believing andbuzzing, even though the company has been unusually secretive – untilnow.”
According to a CBS News article, Stahl is the first journalist to be allowed into the Bloom Energy lab and factory where currently one box a day is built.
“The boxes create electricity by a chemical process that utilizesoxygen and fuel, but involves no combustion,” the article states.“Bloom’s founder and CEO, K.R. Sridhar, insists all the materials inthe box are cheap and available in abundance. Bloom says each large box- which can power about 100 homes – currently sells forUS$700,000-$800,000. They hope within five to 10 years to roll out asmaller home version for about $3,000 a unit.”
John Doerr,the Kleiner Perkins partner who invested in Bloom, has high hopes. "TheBloom Box is intended to replace the [electric power] grid for itscustomer," Doerr told CBS. “I thinks existing utility companies shouldnot be threatened or have a problem with Bloom Energy. The utilitycompanies will see this as a solution. All they need to do is buy BloomBoxes, put them in the substation for the neighborhood and sell thatelectricity."
Stahl interviews Greentech Media’s editor Michael Kanellos who tellsher there is another hurdle for Bloom Energy’s founder and CEO K.R.Sridhar.
“Even if Sridhar can mass produce his boxes and sell them cheaplyenough, the problem is then G.E. and Siemens and other conglomeratesthat can probably do the same thing. They have fuel cell patents,"Kanellos told Stahl.
What are others in the green world saying about Bloom Energy? According to Camille Rickets of GreenBeat,the company fully expects to become a multi-billion dollar business inthe next five years and it expects the bulk of its revenue to come fromsales and lease agreements but hasn’t ruled out the possibility oflaunching a subsidiary to broker power-purchase agreements withutilities and other clients.
“The Bloom Box is based largely on a solid-oxide fuel cell (that canrun on biomass or natural gas) developed by scientists at NASA and ismade out of cheaper materials than those built by its competitors (atleast according to company public relations),“ Ricketts wrote. “Thedevice is also said to withstand a wider range of temperatures, makingit suitable for a wide array of applications (even the space shuttle).”
Ricketts says analysts believe the box could reduce carbonfootprints by 50 to 100 percent (depending on the feedstock used —whether it’s switchgrass, corn husks or natural gas).
“The preview of the 60 Minutes episode also quotes eBay CEO JohnDonahoe as saying that five Bloom Boxes have already saved the auctionsite $100,000 in energy costs,” Ricketts wrote.